Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Nike HTC Relay 2008

This past weekend I had the privilege of competing in the 27th Annual Hood to Coast relay in Oregon with my college alumni team. I know that I have bored more than a few of the Monday night Fed Hill group runners rambling on about it over the past couple of months; however, I did promise Ryan a recap of the action.

Thursday afternoon the majority of the team met up at our hotel in Portland. After settling in, we went out and got in a six mile pre-meet. The trail we ran on was fantastic and if it wasn’t for the fact that I would be racing 15 miles the next day I would have likely kept running for hours on end. Friday morning the final member of our team, Matias (DC Area tri-athlete), showed up at the hotel after giving us a scare by flying out of Fort Lauderdale during a hurricane. The first teams rolled down Mt. Hood around 9 a.m., but we wouldn’t be starting until 7 p.m. To kill the time I went for a 15 minute shake out run in the morning then spent the afternoon getting groceries and watching the Olympics. Our team was split up into two vans; Van 1 would be running legs 1-6, 13-18, and 25-30, while Van 2 would be running the rest of the legs including the finish during leg 36. I was in Van 2 running legs 7, 19, and 31. We waved our colleagues in Van 1 off around 3:30, as they left for Mt. Hood. At 6:30 Van 2 made the hour long drive to the 6th exchange zone and began preparing. Soon word came in on the radio that after the 4th leg we were in 1st place, ahead of Nike, Brooks, Team XO (ex-Oregon), and the Portland Alumni team. Things changed dramatically after the next two legs. The fifth leg had our runner Jesse Graytock (2:31 at Boston 2008) matched up against the former Danish national marathon Champ (Steen Walter 2:13 guy) for Nike and former all-american Max King (8:33 Steeple) for XO. By the time my leg came around, Nike was well out in front, and we were in third running with XO and Portland. My first leg was 5.65 miles over rolling hills; I got the baton just ahead of the Portland guy about 10:30 p.m. and took off. Immediately my head lamp started going dim, the AAA Raovac batteries had some endurance issues so I was running in the dark for most of the leg, about 2 miles in the Portland kid caught me and put about 160 meters on me by the time the leg was through. I got passed by the XO guy with 400 to go and handed the baton to Matias in fifth.

2.2 miles into my leg I was running around 5:30 pace. I slowed a bit on the second half and came in averaging 5:43 per mile. I wanted to go around 5:30, but never got into the racing mode. Overall it was a pretty crappy run on my part, I lost the lead to XO and Portland, and my pace was 15-20 seconds slower than I anticipated. The only good thing was that my legs were not trashed. My legs felt stiff the entire run, and I never got up to speed. After my first leg last year I was barely able to walk, this year my first leg ended up helping me shake out things and I felt relatively fantastic going into my second leg.

I got the baton for my second leg still in fifth, 3 minutes behind XO and 2 minutes behind Portland, around 4 a.m. The second leg was a rough one, one of five that were rated “Very Hard” in difficulty. The first mile had me climbing 100 feet followed by a steep 200 ft drop over the next half mile. After the descent I would climb 200 ft again over the next mile, getting some relief after that with a gradual 150 ft descent. Finally, the leg ended with a half mile 250 foot climb. I covered the 5.9 miles in 34 minutes and change, averaging 5:53 pace. I doubt I was any faster than 6:30 going up the final hill. Compared to my first leg this was much better, although the pace was slower this was a much tougher route. I didn’t loose any ground to the XO guy and made up some time on Portland, when I handed off to Matias for his second leg we were less than 2 minutes back of Portland. Matias then busted out a monster, his leg was the second hardest of the relay and had him going straight up 800 feet for the first five miles, followed by a downhill ¾ of a mile finish. Somehow he averaged 5:43 pace and was able to make up more ground on the two teams within striking distance (by this time Nike and Brooks were likely out of the picture.) Overall, Van 2’s second rotation went really well and while we didn’t gain any ground on the competition we didn’t loose any, setting up Van 1 to make a race out of it.

The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th leg for Van 1 did some major damage on their 3rd rotation. Wallace Campbell (8:14 3k Guy), Evan Honeyfield, and Terry Shea (2004 and 2008 olympic marathon trials qualifier) averaged just around 5 minute pace for their third legs and going into Jesse Graytock’s final leg we were 2 minutes up on Portland. It sucked for Jesse since he had the hardest position of the relay and was matched up against some ringers. His 3rd leg climbed 700 feet and change over the first 3.5 miles followed by 2 plus miles of steep downhill. The Portland guy, a German mercenary (and non-portland alum), had run sub 2:18 in the marathon and was able to pull ahead of Jesse. We made up time on the next leg so that by the time I got the handoff just before 10 a.m. we were only 100 meters behind Portland. My leg was 4 miles exactly, and following that Matias would have a 4.1 leg. Both were slightly downhill and good legs to make up time. I went out and began reeling the Portland runner in. It was finally nice to run in daylight and I knew the Portland guy was hurting more than I was. At 3 miles in I made the pass. I surged quickly and thought I was able to open up a gap; still I heard him breathing and he quickly recovered. At 3.5 miles we hit the uphill finish stride by stride. We battled it out over the next quarter mile, but he ended up pulling ahead some 30 meters by the finish. My legs were toast. Despite losing the battle, I was fairly happy. I hadn’t made myself hurt that bad in a long time, and I knew I laid it out there on my final leg. I split 21:25 over my last leg, just a tad over 5:20 pace. Now it was time to cheer on our final five runners.

Matias caught his competition quickly and ran his leg side by side with Portland. His finish was the exact opposite of mine and he managed to hand off to our 7th guy, Smokey, with a 30 meter lead. Smokey’s leg was 7.8 miles, and he was coming off a 2:33 performance at Boston in the spring. Sadly, the Portland guy matched up with him had just finished training for the 10k at the trials where he finished 20th. By the time Smokey finished we were back 5 minutes and the race was all but over. Smokey ran some of our best legs but there is only so much you can do against an All-American 28:20 10k guy in peak shape (Portland’s Mike Kilburg will be starting with Hanson’s next week.) Our 8th leg, Matt Forys (8:43 steeple), ran 5:08s for his final 4.26 mile leg, making up some time. The race was out of view at this point. Our last two guys had to run there legs in shade-less 85 degree heat and as a result went through some tough times on the course. We finished the race a few minutes back from Portland covering the 197 miles in 17 hours and 44 minutes. It was a bitter sweet day as we were able to run 20 minutes faster than last year but were way off from our past PR of 16:47. Nike (who stole our top runner, Greg Costello) won it handily in 16:57 minutes this year. Its tough to say this early but we hope to make a run for the win next year. I personally wasn’t able to get in the shape I wanted to thanks to some lengthy work hours over the past month, but hope to average at least 20 sec/mile faster if I make the team next year. This is a lofty but reasonable goal and would require me to get back to sub 31 10k shape but I’m optimistic just by the improvements I made this year. A lot of it had to do with being able to run with teamthatswhatshesaid over the past year and staying motivated by training with such a good group. That’s the recap from my point of view, lengthy, but I hope it was interesting.


Alex said...

That sounds like a sick race. It's hard to find that level of competition outside of a marathon. Congrats to you and your team!

RM said...

HARD CORE Macca, way to go! I read some of Matias' recap and it would appear as if you ran really well. 5:20 pace for 4 miles at the end is more than dece-plus (more than decent).

Nike stole one of your runners? That's wack. You should never be friends with him again.

Matt Forys is from my neck of the woods in NJ, his little brother, Craig, was beastly in high school running down near 4 flat in the mile and had a ferocious battle with the Marylander, Matt Centrowitz, in the 2 mile.

I also like the term mercenary to describe a "gun for hire" for another team. We might have to place that label on a few people we know that run for other teams yet do not live anywhere near them...

Arjun Majumdar said...

That was a great recap and that race sound ridic. It is so tough because you just can't know how so many guys will respond on a given day. It sucks having Nike or XO teams in it. It takes some of the fun out of it, because they often have no connection to each other that can compare to x-college teammates. However, it makes it that much sweeter to beat them. Can't wait to help you get after it next year. Congrats.

McCarthy said...

I've been corrected that the german (Uli Steidl)leg 5 was an actual portland alum. Also the course was 2 miles shorter in 2001 so the 16:57 nike ran this year is pretty comparable to our 16:47 time.